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Unlikely Partners: Preemption and the "American Way of War"

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Research paper

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The paper discusses the implications of the current Bush administrations National Security Strategy NSS, particularly its open adoption of preemptive military action as a viable option for dealing with threats to the United States, her allies, or other potential victims of aggression. The author examines the changing nature of the threat facing the United States and the international community to determine if preemption is a legitimate response. Once a definition of legitimate preemption is established, it is applied to historical cases of claimed preemption. Most claims are rejected, as they usually founder on the requirement for the presence of an imminent threat. After sifting out the rare historical cases of true, legitimate preemption, the author outlines the contrast between preemption and the traditional American Way of War. The study of preemption in history and the American approach to preemption demonstrate that the current NSS is a significant departure from the policies of past administrations. While preemption has been an unspoken option for the United States since the onset of the Cold War, it was never openly espoused. In fact, various administrations have condemned it when practiced by allies or other nations. The changing nature of the threat, in particular the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction capable of employment with limited warning, is used by the administration to justify preemption as an option. Yet a decision to preempt also serves as a precedent for other regimes who may have less legitimate agendas. The paper concludes with a set of principles derived from Just War theory and other historical sources and from historical examples of preemption. These principles are intended as a guide to determine when preemption may be a legitimate option.

Subject Categories:

  • Government and Political Science
  • Humanities and History
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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